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Bill of lading – deviation – construction of liberty clause

The facts

Oranges were shipped from Malaga, Spain to Liverpool. The bill of lading under which they were shipped, contained a wide liberty clause allowing the ship to proceed and stay at any port or ports in any rotation in the Mediterranean, Levant, Black Sea or Adriatic and various other places within a wide geographical circle.

As a result of the delay caused by a substantial deviation, the oranges were lost.

The ship owners argued that they were entitled to deviate by the wide terms of the liberty clause and therefore not liable for the loss.


All the judges, from the court of first instance to the House of Lords, were unanimous in their finding that the general, wide terms of the liberty clause had to be read down to give business sense to the contract relating to the carriage of perishable goods.

The courts recognized that the wide, general words were drafted to cater for a wide range of circumstances and were not intended to apply in equally to every case.


The case is a good example of how the courts deal with presentiation. Contracts are made to deal future events which cannot be foreseen with any great measure of precision. Where the parties attempt to deal with this problem by widening the terms of the contract, the courts qualify the general words by the particular context.

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Charter Party Casebook